President Donald Trump’s maiden speech at the United Nations on Tuesday morning laid down a very tough line on North Korea’s threats and rocket firings. It has also shaken other foreign leaders, including not just a few American friends and allies.
The tough line was appropriate, but some of the language was not.
Trump’s attack on the US-Iran Joint Nuclear Agreement with six countries was factually wrong on several count, placing the U.S. at odds with several key allies.
In an interview with Lester Holt of NBC, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gently took issue with several points, including the president’s insistence that Iran was not complying with the nuclear agreement. Rouhani underlined the point he has made consistently: that Iran is not making any more fuel and does not intend to.
Both his comments on Korea and Iran created turmoil.
Other unfolding political events of the past week have riled political factions in both parties. President Donald Trump’s decision to try and cut a deal with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi managed to offend some on both sides of the aisles of Congress.
Trump’s offer (or not, depending on which version you listened to) to allow “Dreamer” youth, those brought to America as children, to remain in the country while making some progress on border issues — but not the wall — enraged hardliners on immigration. Republicans are furious and Democrats are shaking their heads.
Right-wing House Republicans intend to push the wall as a key part of any Americanization of the Dreamers while House Democrats have said they will not support any bill that includes wall funding. Moods are ugly all over Washington and the various states as well.
Trump again repeated — for the third time — his assertion that “both sides” in the mid-August Charlottesville riots over Civil War statuary removal were at fault — thus trying to equate the alt-right folks shouting Nazi racial slogans and brandishing weapons with peaceful civil rights demonstrators.
In some eyes, this was only partly balanced by the dismissal of Steve Bannon from his White House position as chief strategist. Bannon’s subsequent hour-long television rant a few days later merely confirmed his pro-fascist, highly egocentric personality — one that only a mother could love.
Parallel to all his activity, but getting little detailed analysis — unless you watch late night MSNBC Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell programs — is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Mueller people are working shrewdly and exhaustively, investigating dozens of people who have had contacts with Russians both before and after the presidential elections.
The prosecutors are, and should be, holding their information tightly. But the range of their interest is impressive—Trump children, 20-plus former Trump staffers, headed by former campaign chief Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. Even Facebook has now admitted that over 400 Soviet surrogate groups have been positing secret, anti-American material since well before last year’s national elections.
Given the tips of the icebergs that have emerged, it will not be unreasonable to expect that their findings could show prosecutable collusion. The specter of presidential impeachment or resignation is clear.
The impact of all this, over time, will strongly increase our national political turmoil, with negative effects on just about everything in American political life and foreign policy.
The State Department continues to struggle along under the oft-demonstrated incompetent leadership of Rex Tillerson. Though the House has approved a restoration of all but one percent of the draconian Trump administration cuts to the department’s budget, the Senate has not yet acted, and the organizational structure of the department is still a shambles.
Meanwhile, the North Koreans continue to launch missiles and threaten us and our allies in the Pacific and in the Middle East. Thanks to Trump’s stunning ineptitude and his stiffing of our friends at last spring’s G-20 conference, our European allies may have little interest in helping us.
The administration is glued to its internal problems and unwilling or unable to pay sufficient, sustained attention to the complex foreign policy issues we face. Unless we can get ourselves straightened around with dispatch, we are in for a great deal of misery this fall and winter and perhaps well beyond.
John D. Stempel is a Foreign Service Officer and former director at University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.